Why alcohol in skin care isn’t such a bad thing

We debunk one of the biggest beauty myths once and for all

Beauty Crew Beauty Writer / March 20 2018

Alcohol is perhaps the one ingredient we all tend to shy away from when we see it on the back of a product for fear it will leave our skin feeling irritated and dry. And those fears are certainly warranted. We only need to think about how blotchy and red the harsh toners and acne treatments we used during our teenage years left our skin to realise that skin and (some) alcohols simply don’t mix.

The unfortunate reality with alcohols in skin care however, is we tend to paint them all with the same brush. But it turns out that some alcohols can actually benefit the skin. To get to the bottom of why alcohol in skin care is actually a good thing, and the types we need to keep avoiding, we spoke to Clinique’s Senior Vice President for Global Product Development, Janet Pardo, and Education Manager for Dermalogica and The International Dermal Institute, Emma Hobson.

According to Hobson, the alcohol we need to steer clear of is “S.D (specially denatured) alcohol, which is known to strip the skin of its natural oils, which not only encourages the skin to produce more oil but also results in dehydration and skin sensitisation.” On the other hand, alcohols “like stearyl, lauryl, oleyl, caprylic, myristyl and cetyl, which are all fatty alcohols (derived from fatty substances), can help moisturise the skin and are commonly found in moisturisers and used as emollients,” says Hobson. 

Additionally, fatty alcohols can assist the chemical exfoliation process as they “act like the perfect vehicle to give a light cleanse, help get rid of the bad bacteria and deliver the chemical exfoliation that actually helps loosen up the glue between the skin cells when they don’t want to slough off naturally,” explains Pardo.

If you were anything like us and curious as to how often you can incorporate fatty alcohols into your skin care routine, Hobson says they can be used daily without causing irritation or sensitivity to the skin. Who knew?

Looking to incorporate some of these skin-loving ingredients into your routine? Some of our favourite products formulated with fatty alcohols include Clinique Clarifying Lotion 1, Dermalogica Age Reversal Eye Complex and Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentré Moisturiser.

Clinique Clarifying Lotion 1

Dermalogica Age Reversal Eye Complex

Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentré Moisturiser

Is your new skin care product causing you to break out? Then find out why that might not be such a bad thing either.

Have you previously avoided skin care products that contain alcohol? Will you now start incorporating them into your routine? Let us know in the comments below.

Image credit: @emrata


Kate started working for BEAUTYcrew in early 2016, first as a contributor, and was then named Beauty Writer in 2017. She loves picking the brains of the industry's top experts to get to the bottom of beauty's toughest questions. Bronze eyeshadow palettes are her weakness and she's forever on the hunt for the perfect nude nail polish to suit her fair skin. Her words can also be found in Men's Health magazine, and she now works in PR.